They were one and a half months into the plan, and miraculously, it had not gone up in flames yet. Merlin seemed to have thought of everything. The little details in the false memories were what really made it work. Merlin’s story was believable, although deeply upsetting. He hated seeing his mother stressed all the time, fussing over a child who wasn’t hers, even in the false memories.
Merlin being Hunith’s son was an infuriatingly attentive detail. Mordred hadn’t thought that Merlin would create an age gap between the two of them, even though it made more sense.
And Mordred certainly hadn’t thought of how impossible it would’ve been for his mother to have had another child two years prior to his birth, when she was only sixteen. No, Merlin had thought of everything. He created a whole other personality for his amnesiac self.
Toby, their adoptive father, taught Merlin how to piano starting at age seven. Since then, Merlinhad developed a real passion for it, going as far as moving to California purely for the music scene. He fell into a bad crowd while he was there, got mixed up in drug abuse, and ended up flying back home on a whim. He decided he would study music at the University of Chicago, alongside Mordred who was starting as an art major in the fall.
The only issue with this, of course, was that Merlin was completely void of this musical passion now. Probably because it never existed in the first place, only he couldn’t very well tell Merlin that.
Merlin now sat on his bed, biting his nails and looking to Mordred to solve his identity crisis. He looked so small, so ordinary, sitting on Mordred’s bed like that. He really looked like he could just be a twenty year old kid, starting fresh.
“I’m just worried. I’ve been too afraid to even touch the piano downstairs. I can’t remember it. Oh God, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to play again.” Merlin covered his face with his hands, and fell back over the side of the bed. In the past month, Mordred was really starting to see a Merlin he recognized. The Merlin he knew a long time ago. He was shy and awkward, but constantly cracking jokes and witty comebacks. It felt oddly comfortable, and his presence seemed to make the house feel fuller and more lively.
“I mean, I can’t even think of a band I like. How could music have been my whole life if I don’t remember caring about it all?” Merlin, as Mordred was discovering, might be the most melodramatic bastard he’d ever met. He would do this around twice a day, storm into Mordred’s room while he was working or packing, and collapse onto the bed. He’d complain about everything from his memory to boredom.
“You really liked, um…” Mordred thought back to the day he met Merlin at Avalon. That was a band shirt, right? “Uh...Dinosaur Jr.” Yeah, that was a band. Merlin pondered this, before pulling the iPhone Toby bought him last week. A song started playing from the phone speaker, with sharp electric and raspy vocals. Mordred kind of hated it, but didn’t mind it as long as Merlin kept quiet. Because, Merlin could talk. Non-stop, for hours, regardless of whatever Mordred, or Hunith, or Toby was doing. Mordred’s mom was the only one who could get him to stop talking, if only because she could talk just as long and twice as fast.
Mordred turned back to his sketchpad, and started to clean up the lines on a half-hearted portrait of Lance, the man he’d met on the plane. Mordred thought about him as often as he could. There was something so...otherworldly about him. He reminded Mordred a lot of Merlin, not the one who was sprawled across his bed, but the one with the memories. Lance felt like an off-brand Merlin, with his off-hand wisdom, only unlike Merlin, Lance actually listened to what Mordred had to say. He often found himself wishing he’d gotten the stranger’s number, or social media, just to have someone he could talk to.
They started university in the fall of 2017. The summer was a whirlwind, of Merlin and memories and kind strangers. It felt a little surreal for Mordred to be following through on the plans he made for his future before Merlin. But both of them started college anyways, feeling a little more like actual brothers than Mordred wanted to admit. Their dorm room was tiny, and Mordred had to hide Merlin’s suitcase underneath his bed, and did anything he could to keep Merlin away from it. He’d gotten out all of the twenty-first century appropriate attire, which was mostly moth-eaten band t-shirts and a few button downs from the 1950s.
The first year went remarkably smoothly. Somehow, Merlin taught himself to play the piano days before the memory wipe without Mordred's knowledge. Because Merlin’s muscles certainly remembered how to play. Merlin was a bit of a problem child, constantly getting into disagreements with his gen-ed professors of ridiculous facts that Merlin couldn’t explain why he knew. But Merlin was never too disrespectful, not like how Mordred remembered him being, and his professors seemed to enjoy his input.
The other big project of that school year was fixing Merlin’s eating habits, or rather, lack thereof. Merlin had told Mordred that he’d stopped eating after a famine in the 1800s, and that eventually he just stopped feeling hungry at all. This was a huge problem, especially when they went home for the holidays. Mordred’s family liked big, whole-family sit-down dinners where they all talked about their days and enjoyed each others’ company.
But Merlin had a really hard time eating. Marilyn was growing increasingly concerned about this, and it put Mordred on edge. So, he’d made it his mission to have Merlin eating at least semi-regularly before Thanksgiving. And he was kind of successful. By the time the holidays rolled around, Merlin was eating once a day, although he complained about it.
The finished their first year without any incidents or magical break-outs and spent the summer attempting to teaching Merlin how to drive. But Merlin was a little skittish around technology. He still jumped every time he got a text and did poorly on his classes that involved online participation. Driving was a whole other issue. Merlin behind the wheel was terrifying. He went too fast and couldn’t figure out how to use the brakes without slamming them. They gave up after Merlin ran over a flower bush and started crying. It was so weird to see Merlin cry, especially at such a mundane thing. He went from being entirely void of emotions to weeping over crushed roses.
That summer they celebrated Merlin’s “21st” birthday. The birthday thing was strange, because it seemed to be largely omitted from the memories Merlin had given their family. Except Hunith, who adamantly insisted that Merlin’s birthday was August 23rd, and that they celebrate it this year, since they’d missed the last two birthdays.
They started their second year in an apartment, which meant they both needed jobs. Merlin ended up working at a CVS, taking the first job he could find. Mordred ended up as a library clerk, much to Merlin’s disgust.
“You can’t be a librarian! I hate librarians!” A lot of Merlin’s opinions would manifest like this. Merlin would inexplicably have a strong reaction to something. Sometimes Mordred knew why, but other times he didn’t. Librarians, he understood, remembering Geoffrey. But one time, he offered Merlin a stick of gum, and Merlin slapped it out of his hand.
“Merlin I’m not quitting just because you don’t like libraries. It’s within walking distance and it pays well.” Merlin pouted, something he’d been doing quite a lot lately. Merlin’s behavior was so juvenile without his memories, it was hard to think of him as the same person he’d been when they met.
By the end of their second year, Merlin and Mordred had a group. They had finally found enough friends for trivia, movie, and game nights. The only problem with this, of course, was Gwaine. Gwaine was a grad student studying geology (which was completely confusing and unexpected). He definitely didn’t remember anything, but his presence put Mordred on edge.
Only, Merlin really, really loved Gwaine. He was almost always at their apartment, anywhere where Merlin was, really. The two of them were inseparable, and absolutely obnoxious. Mordred had to bail them out of holding cells not once, but twice in the past year. They would get belligerently drunk, which Mordred had no clue how Merlin was still affected by alcohol, after 1500 years, and get into bar fights. But Mordred didn’t really mind, because he’d never seen Merlin this happy ever.
Merlin was eating twice a day, he started kind of sleeping, and he was loud, joyous, and lively. Sometimes Mordred really did feel like they were brothers. Merlin trusted him like a brother. Sometimes, he’d come into Mordred’s room at night, and they would talk for hours. Most of the time, the conversations turned dark. Merlin would confide in Mordred all of his worst fears and guilt about what he knew about his past. He’d apologize to Mordred for leaving and getting into drugs. He told Mordred he was probably suicidal, because he was covered in scars he couldn’t explain or remember. Other nights, they would make dinner and it would fail spectacularly. They would fall on the kitchen floor, clutching each other and crying with laughter. They laughed a lot. Merlin would tease Mordred about all his portraits. He would see Kara’s face plastered all over Mordred’s desk and make light jokes, unknowing. Except that didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. Merlin’s presence grew to be comforting, even though Mordred felt like the older brother in their situation. If Merlin found him crying and apologizing for things Merlin couldn’t remember, they would stay home and watch sitcoms until Mordred felt better.
Merlin, for all his darkness and inner turmoil, was always smiling. He was always teasing Mordred or Gwaine, constantly joking and laughing. They’d been living together for two years now, and it was hard to remember that most of it was fake. It was easy to forget that Merlin wasn’t family, and that his life wasn’t always this good.
When they went back home after their second year, to their family, Mordred realized that it really was their family. Merlin had become an integral part of the family, and Mordred found it hard to believe that they’d ever lived without him.